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What's More Important: the Self or the Selfie?

Posted by on in Teens and Tweens
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Selfie: noun self·ie \ˈsel-fē\

an image of oneself taken by oneself using a digital camera especially for posting on social networks – Miriam Webster Dictionary

The term selfie was added to the Miriam-Webster dictionary in 2014 and holds the honor of being Word of the Year for 2013. (Vape is the 2014 WOTY in case you’re wondering). While narcissism among teens is common in every generation, technology and social media have created the right environment for this generation’s teens to display their narcissism to the world with the hopes of being validated by favorites on Twitter, hearts on Instagram, and likes on Facebook (the FB reference is for reader relatability since no teens are on Facebook).

A recent article in the New York Times titled “The Pressure to Look Good” hits the nail on the head. “Every day is Class Picture Day. Every phone is a camera. Every picture or video ends up on the Intranet. Everyone, from your eighth grade classmates to the wife of the guy you worked for ten years ago can see. . .” asserts writer Jennifer Weiner. Looking good has become so important in today’s society, and the selfie is there to capture us at our best. The problem with the selfie is that it only projects the image we want to show and doesn’t necessarily show who we truly are. Now before you think I’m all anti-selfie, that’s not at all the case; I have been known to take lots of selfies. However, we cannot ignore the impact that selfies are having on our youth.

The ongoing conversation we should be having with our students is what do we value more: the self or the selfie? Consider the following dichotomies:

The selfie requires knowledge of fashion that is trending. The self requires knowledge of timeless truths. What timeless truths shape you?

The selfie requires thinking about how good I look. The self requires how well the state of my soul is. What is the current state of my soul?

The selfie requires an understanding of what will get social media likes. The self requires an understanding of how to like other people. How are my relationships with others?

The selfie focuses on the external. The self focuses on the internal. Do I like myself?

The selfie is about always being camera ready. The self is about being life ready. Do I like the life I am living?

And there’s one other thing: working on the self is a lot harder and more time consuming than working on a selfie. Am I spending the necessary time reading, reflecting, and considering the advice and/or criticism of others?

Teaching digital citizenship to the next generation goes much further than explaining what is appropriate and not appropriate to post on social media. Digital citizenship requires conversations about self- esteem, self-worth, and the self. Discuss these questions with your students. Spend time talking about issues that go to the heart and the soul with the next generation. Then pull out your selfie stick, say “cheese,” and click.



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I am a caffeinated educator with the incredible privilege of teaching high school English and serving as a school leader. This is my seventh year at Northgate High School on the south side of Atlanta where teach AP Literature and also lower level American literature. Having taught in public, private, and home schooled, I am a believer in the system and striving to be a positive influence among both students and educators. At the end of the day, I am glad to settle down to watching something on Netflix with my husband and three kids.

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Guest Tuesday, 19 June 2018